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Health leaders join growing calls for permanent ceasefire in Gaza and Israel

Below are two linked articles; the first providing an overview of the health and humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, followed by a statement from the community health service provider cohealth, urging the Australian Government “to do everything within its power to continue to promote an immediate and enduring ceasefire in Gaza and Israel”.


Melissa Sweet writes:

“The suffering of Palestinians trapped in Gaza can no longer be put into words.”

“Doctors are stepping over bodies of dead children to treat other children who will die anyway.”

These comments come from an MSF Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) statement on 19 December describing the horrific conditions in Gaza, where humanitarian agencies warn more than a million people are at imminent risk of starvation and are lacking even the most basic of conditions of survival.

“The Gaza Strip remains the most dangerous place in the world to be a child, and day after day that brutal reality is reinforced,” said UNICEF spokesperson James Elder on 20 December.

Elder repeatedly expressed his fury – about the “humanitarian nightmares” unleashed on a million children, the killing of children, including those in hospitals, and the threat of diseases on top of the violence.

Beyond belief

The World Health Organization’s Dr Margaret Harris said: “It is beyond belief that the world is allowing this to continue.” She described how WHO colleagues have seen people lying on the floor in severe pain who were asking for water rather than pain relief.

Between 7 October and 18 December, up to 1.9 million people (or over 85 per cent of the population) have been displaced across the Gaza Strip, some multiple times, according to the latest UNRWA situation report. Families are forced to move repeatedly in search of safety.

During that period, 19,453 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip, about 70 percent of them reported to be women and children, and more than 52,286 have reportedly been injured, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza. It is believed several thousand more remain buried under the rubble.

UN Human Rights Chief Volker Türk has implored all parties to heed calls by the international community for a sustainable ceasefire. “The call for a ceasefire – on human rights and humanitarian grounds – is getting louder by the day, and must be heeded,” he said.

Strikes on civilian infrastructure that serve as shelters, such as hospitals, schools and religious facilities, continue to be reported, he said, causing deaths and injuries. The Human Rights Office has also documented allegations of arbitrary detention, torture and unlawful killings, including at schools and hospitals in Northern Gaza and Gaza City during operations conducted by Israeli forces.

“Allegations of breaches of the laws of war must be immediately and fully investigated,” Türk said. “Those responsible for such acts must be held to account, and justice served.”

“Now, Palestinians are being forced into smaller and smaller areas, in a mass displacement up to the Gaza-Egyptian border while military operations continue to encroach ever closer. There is simply nowhere left in Gaza for them to go.”

Rafah has become the epicentre of displacement with over one million people – almost half of the population – concentrated in extremely overcrowded and unbearable living conditions, exacerbated by the onset of winter.

Civilians in Northern Gaza are getting no relief at all. “In the north, an estimated 100,000 civilians remain completely isolated from relief efforts, and too scared to move amid the relentless bombing, tank patrols and for fear of snipers,” Türk said. “They are trapped in a living hell.”

Juliette Touma, Director of Communications at UNRWA, visited Gaza recently, and later described the “brutal” impacts of the war, including for UN and other humanitarian workers, many of whom have lost colleagues, family members and their homes.

“All of this is unprecedented: the volume, the level of destruction, the displacement of people, the grief that this has brought on the agency with the loss of colleagues, the hits on our own facilities, and the fact that all of this happened in just over seven weeks,” she told UN News.

“It’s like nothing I’ve seen throughout my 20 years of service with the United Nations.”

Ethical duty

While many health and medical organisations have failed to advocate publicly for ceasefire, a doctor in the United States who grew up in Gaza City is urging colleagues to speak up.

Dr Osaid Alser, a researcher and resident at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, told Aljazeera that it is a professional responsibility, stating that “advocacy is a very important part of medicine”.

Alser and his brother, also a doctor, launched an initiative last month to track the number of healthcare workers killed, and have so far documented 278 killed since the start of the war. That includes 104 physicians, 87 nurses and 87 others working in various medical roles.

“That includes a lot of my friends, my mentors, even my own medical students that I taught back in 2017, who went on to become doctors and have been killed,” Alser said.

In the UK, the Royal College of General Practitioners has written to Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron, urging the Government to use all its means to “prevail on all parties to the conflict to take urgent action to halt the hostilities which are causing such destruction to Gaza’s health services and in the region”.

The College was “profoundly concerned about the impact of the resumption of hostilities on Gaza’s health services and those working to provide medical aid”, wrote its Chair Professor Kamila Hawthorne.

“A substantial proportion of Gaza’s healthcare infrastructure, including primary care facilities, has already been destroyed, and healthcare workers are working under the constant and terrifying threat of military attack, with a significant number already having lost their lives.

“We understand from our contacts in the region that the situation is now more difficult than ever, and that there are growing concerns about the growth in communicable diseases and other conditions, including malnutrition, diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections and Hepatitis A.”

The letter warns that if the health system is not restored, the public health consequences for the two million civilian population are likely to be catastrophic, “with the potential for untreated diseases to kill even more people than bombing”.

“The impact of this will be felt for many years to come,” Hawthorne wrote.In Australia, the community health service provider cohealth has issued a statement calling on the Australian Government “to do everything within its power to continue to promote an immediate and enduring ceasefire in Gaza and Israel”. The statement follows in full below.


Statement by cohealth

cohealth is deeply concerned by the ongoing violence in Gaza and Israel, and the devastating impact it is having on everyone in the region.

We join the widespread calls from around the world for an immediate and permanent ceasefire on humanitarian grounds and an end to violence. We call for all parties to uphold human rights, abide by international law and not only protect civilian lives, but ensure that food, fuel, clean water, electricity, aid and health care can reach those who need it.

We strongly condemn the bombing of healthcare and hospitals including the attacks on Al-Shifa Hospital, Al-Quds Hospital, and the Indonesian Hospital.

Contrary to international law, hospitals and health services have been directly attacked, and health workers risk death and injury as they strive to care for and treat. the sick, wounded, pregnant, young and elderly in horrendous conditions. Nearly 300 health workers have been killed (sourced on 12 December). At least 26 of the 35 hospitals in Gaza are not functioning.

The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: ‘Gaza’s health system is on its knees and collapsing.’

As a health service, cohealth supports the need for doctors and healthcare workers being protected to provide safe humanitarian aid in conflict-affected areas.

Since October, Australia’s Department of Home Affairs has granted temporary visas to 1700+ people from Israel and recently approved 800+ visas for Palestinians. cohealth welcomes this government decision; an opportunity for people to leave a place of fear, and come to Australia for safety, support, and hope. While safety is paramount, we also acknowledge the trauma these people will be carrying as they arrive in Australia: the trauma of what they’ve witnessed; the trauma of being displaced and separated from the places, and in many cases, people they love.

As a health service that works closely with refugees and people in our community affected by conflicts around the world, we see firsthand the devastation war has on people. Access to healthcare and urgent supplies are fundamental human rights and must be protected even in times of conflict. cohealth staff, clients and community members have family and friends affected by the escalating violence. They are hurting, they are grieving, and they all want peace.

As a health service committed to human rights and health and social equity, cohealth condemns violence of any kind. These acts of violence and war have and continue to result in the deaths of civilians.

cohealth calls for peace in Gaza and Israel. cohealth calls on the Australian government to do everything within its power to continue to promote an immediate and enduring ceasefire in Gaza and Israel.


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